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Lee v. Village of Cardington

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fifth District

July 15, 2013

DONALD LEE Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
VILLAGE OF CARDINGTON, OHIO Defendant-Appellee

Appeal from the Morrow County Common Pleas Court, Case No. 2009 CV 00469

For Defendant-Appellee JOHN D. LATCHNEY Tomino & Latchney, LLC, LPA

For Plaintiff-Appellant D. WESLEY NEWHOUSE MICHAEL S. KOLMAN Newhouse, Prophater, Letcher & Moots, LLC

Hon. William B. Hoffman, P.J. Hon. Patricia A. Delaney, J. Hon. Craig R. Baldwin, J.

OPINION

Hoffman, P.J.

{¶1} Plaintiff-appellant Donald Lee appeals the October 1, 2012 Judgment Entry entered by the Morrow County Court of Common Pleas granting summary judgment in favor of Defendant-appellee the Village of Cardington, Ohio.

STATEMENT OF THE FACTS AND CASE

{¶2} Appellant was employed as the Crew Chief for the Village of Cardington Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) from 2000, until his termination in 2009. His duties included supervision and oversight of street maintenance work, sewer maintenance work, and the operation of the water treatment plant and waste water treatment plant. Appellant also served as a Township Trustee for Cardington Township. His duties included supervision of the licensed operator of the waste water treatment plant.

{¶3} Cardington Yutaka Technologies ("CYT") is a manufacturer of car parts, and the Village's largest employer.

{¶4} WWTP uses two waste water pump stations to lift raw sewage from the Village's water supply. Bacteria in the pumps digest the solids in the effluent. Operators sample the effluent and decide how long the material stays in tank one before moving to tank two. Once the effluent is pumped into tank two, the bacterium continues to digest and break down the solids. The effluent is sampled and then pumped into tank three where the bacterium continues to break down the solids. When the process in tank three is completed the effluent is pumped on to clarifiers. In the clarifiers, the heavier particles drop to the bottom of the tank, and the process continues in the digester where a bacterium continues to clean the water of harmful materials. The clear fluid is removed from the tanks and is recycled through the plant. The dry material is known as sludge and is shoveled out to a storage area.

{¶5} WWTP began to experience a problem with the bacteria used to treat the raw sewage, including frothing and foaming. Testing determined CYT was releasing a toxic substance into the wastewater known as glycol at the time of the plant shutdowns. The toxic substance problem occurred twice a year and coincided with the shut downs of CYT. Testing determined the sludge produced at the WWTP was also contaminated.

{¶6} Appellant had a permit with WWTP and the Ohio EPA to use the sludge produced at the WWTP on his farm as fertilizer. However, due to the release of the glycol chemical into the water by CYT, he would no longer use the sludge. Ultimately the sludge was taken to a landfill.

{¶7} On September 15, 2008, Appellant attended the Village Council meeting to inform the Council of the glycol entering the WTTP pump and other problems. He informed the council the Village had a material coming into the plant killing the bacteria, and as a result, toxic water was potentially being sent down stream. He informed council this was an EPA violation, and the contaminant was causing deterioration in the propellers of the pumps. He informed council the chemical was killing WWTP bacteria necessary in water treatment, and as a result was sending toxic water downstream.

{¶8} Appellant also indicated to council and his superior he did not agree with some aspects of engineering reports and estimates to repair the WWTP. He indicated some of the items were a waste of taxpayer money and could be accomplished more cheaply. He questioned the practicality and expense of the repairs. Appellant further continued to report other violations of law involving CYT to his supervisor, including use of more than five percent of the total of the Village's water ...


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